The Warning Shot Across Jones’ Bows

Amidst the McGregor-Nurmagomedov-Ferguson, Cyborg-Nunes, Cormier-Stipe, St Pierre and even the Johnson-Dillashaw stories of the last few weeks, it was easy to miss the news that USADA had suspended – now former – UFC bantamweight Francisco Rivera for 4 years, for the first time applying the “aggravating circumstances” clause.

Aggravating circumstances are defined by USADA as when the drug in question had potential to significantly improve in bout performance, and in addition, was one of multiple positives, was part of a doping plan or scheme, or, as was in the case of Rivera, the athlete engages in “deceptive or obstructing conduct to avoid the detection or adjudication of an Anti-Doping Policy Violation”.

“Cisco” thought he had a case. He presented to USADA the fact he had shortly before the failed test traveled to Mexico to visit family. There he had attended a barbeque where he had consumed beef contaminated by clenbuterol.

In his defense he put forward not only bank statements showing fuel purchases in Mexico, but also testimonies from relatives, and even a receipt showing the purchase of meat for the aforementioned family gathering.

His defense, however, was quick to unravel. Not only was it established that the bank statement had been faked, but, Antonio and Erika were not his relatives, in fact, he did not even know them. The Costco receipt was in fact from a store 1,500 miles from Tijuana, and laughably, did not indicate the purchase of any meat.

It was no surprise then, when the panel agreed that he engaged in “deceptive” conduct and was happy to agree to USADA’s request for aggravating circumstances to be applied.

Rewind to the winter of 2016 and it is announced that an independent arbitrator had suspended Jon Jones for 12 months after his positive for clomiphene.

Probably what got the biggest headline at the times was the arbitrators conclusion that “Jones, in the view of the (arbitration) panel had not intended to cheat”. What perhaps didn’t receive the same attention was a quote from USADA’s head legal council William Bock III, which appeared completely at odds with the findings of the panel.

The whole story told by the protagonists lacked the clear ring of truth and had rather the indistinct sound of contrivance”

Lacking the ring of truth? Contrived? Bock, who has been the council for USADA for the best part of twenty years, and has seen it all from BALCO to Lance Armstrong, went on to describe the defense’s testimonies as “inconsistent” and stated that it appeared to be “coordinated by Malki Kawa”.

Jeff Novitzky, the UFC’s Vice-President of Athlete Health and Performance appeared on Joe Rogan’s video-podcast recently, and again, while the headline was that he was of the belief that Jones did not intend to cheat, he went to great lengths to emphasise that an increased sanction due to aggravating circumstances was still a possibility.

While it is something of a leap to go from USADA council believing a story was “contrived” to convincing an arbitration panel that the athlete is engaging in “deceptive” behavior to avoid punishment, it is nonetheless a timely reminder, that life on the good ship Jon Jones, may not all be smooth sailing.